Las Vegas On My Mind

Like the rest of America, I was horrified to wake up yesterday morning to reports of the mass shooting from the Mandalay Bay Hotel/Casino on the strip in Las Vegas. Such mass shootings — and the predictable hand-wringing, ineffectual thoughts and prayers, and lack of concrete action following them — are part of a sadly familiar pattern these days. But this one felt particularly close to home, as we just stayed at the Mandalay Bay Hotel/Casino on September 23rd, our last night in Las Vegas. My procrastination had triumphed, and we’d ended up not making Rosh Hashanah arrangements, so for Erev Rosh Hashanah we decided to pretend like we were secular Israelis and have a beach day (we actually live-streamed services from Rabbi Elisa Koppel’s congregation in Wilmington, DE the next day). The hotel out in Henderson, NV where we had been staying had magically doubled in price, so for our extra night we decided to check out options for hotels with particularly excellent pools and not utterly outrageous prices on the strip, and settled on Mandalay Bay (the hotel has a lazy river and a wave pool in addition to the more normal swimming pool and hot tub hotel pool offerings), which was also where the shuttle from our Henderson hotel had dropped us off and picked us up when we’d taken it into and out of town.

Vegas was a good place to relax and recharge our batteries for a few days, but it was also frustrating, as the casino economy tries to suck you in but then makes you pay through the nose for *everything* — even inner tubes for the lazy river ($24 for a normal-sized tube, $18 for one only big enough for a toddler — we didn’t bite). The kids certainly got an education in the weirdness of a casino-based economy — and hopefully some future inoculation against making gambling for fun one of their primary recreational activities (I’m no prude, and I have no problem with folks occasionally gambling for fun, but I can think of many more productive — and less depressing — uses for one’s free time). But the crowds are everywhere, the neon is trippy, and we made way too many lame jokes about being home when we wandered through “New York, New York.” The Mandalay Bay pools were a welcome respite — the kids loved playing in the lazy river and the very, Very, VERY slow wave pool (one wave approximately every two or three minutes, presumably so any drunk people didn’t drown). We walked the strip at night, and the kids had fun checking out the dancing fountains and the Roman statues at Caesar’s Palace.

I’m not much of a gambler, and the whole time we were in Vegas, I couldn’t be bothered to figure out how to negotiate the loyalty cards and whatever other nonsense is necessary to even play a slot machine, so I just… didn’t (if someone had handed me $5 or $10 of free chips, I certainly would have). But although we didn’t know it at the time, we won the ultimate Vegas good fortune — we left well over a week before this tragedy unfolded. What is unfortunate for all of America is that the odds are stacked against us these days, as more and more people abuse our Second Amendment rights in a misguided belief that this one Amendment is unlimited, even though all of the rest are not (e.g., despite your First Amendment rights, you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, nor can you commit perjury without consequence, nor are you immune to lawsuits if you commit slander or libel).

Below are some photos of what a few days of harmless fun in Vegas should look like (and below the photos are my personal beliefs about what we should do to make gun ownership consequential enough to make a material difference in preventing these types of crimes):

Personally, my take is that we should simply spread the consequences out further: if you’re in the chain of ownership of a particular gun, and that gun is used in a crime, even if you sold it, gave it away, lent it out, or had it stolen from you (unless it was stolen from inside a locked, approved anti-theft, properly secured gun safe) then you can be held accountable for any crime or reckless act committed with that gun unless you’d obtained a background check before selling or giving your gun away. This would apply to private owners as well as professional gun sellers. Similarly, you’d also need proof that whomever was acquiring the gun from you had a proper gun safe for securing the weapon. You’d still have the right to own your gun, of course, but you’d also have a real, material stake in preventing that gun from being used to commit a crime or being used to commit a reckless act (e.g., a child too young to know better shooting another child with the gun). You could inoculate yourself, however, from these consequences by showing proof that you’d conducted a background check (through a more robust background check system that had access to far more records than those available to our anemic background check systems today) before you sold or gave away your gun and showing proof that you’d obtained evidence that the person to whom you were transferring the weapon also owned a proper gun safe. Properly securing your gun in an anti-theft gun safe to which only you had the combination would, of course, go a long way toward preventing children from shooting each other.

So under my proposal, if you want to give your gun to your nephew Johnny without a background check, hey, that’s cool, but you’d better trust Johnny — and anyone Johnny might transfer the gun to — an awful lot, as you’re on the hook for any crimes or reckless acts committed with that gun unless someone further down the chain of possession inoculates you by obtaining a proper background check and proper assurances that the gun will be safely stored. If you left the gun to Johnny in your will, then your estate could be on the hook for the consequences in your stead. But if Johnny was an 8 year old who found the gun unsecured in your house and shot his sister Sally with it, then although Johnny likely couldn’t be prosecuted for murder — you could be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter, at the very least. Generally speaking, my take is that gun ownership requires high levels of responsibility. If you’re willing to take full responsibility for the consequences of owning that gun — then great, go ahead and own it. But if you’re not, then you have no business owning that gun.

And, of course, I think there should be some limits on the types of guns that can be sold to the American public (remember, the Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment in a time when the best technology included muskets and cannon). I have no argument with gun ownership, and I’ve shot guns myself (most recently, when I went skeet shooting this summer). But we have got to do better at making sure that we minimize the possibility of these sorts of mass shootings. If you don’t like the new, more responsible and consequential conditions of ownership, then you should sell your guns back through a massive gun buyback program that would be implemented along with the new, more responsible ownership laws.

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